Four days after Tesla's fourth-largest shareholder urged "a time of quiet and peace", chief executive Elon Musk lobbed one of his nastiest stink bombs yet: an accusation about an organizer of the Thailand cave rescue that investors say is a major distraction from his mission running the embattled automaker. Unsworth's knowledge of the Thai cave system helped rescuers locate the missing soccer team.
Furthermore, Musk insisted that his submarine (designed in consultation with "cave experts on the Internet", he wrote) would have worked.
Musk has come under increased pressure in recent months as frustrations mount over his electric vehicle company's production and cash burn troubles.
Zhao said he believed Musk originally had "good intentions", but that "humanitarian rescues ... are professional tasks so we should trust others with local community connections". The original tweet and a second one doubling down on the message were later deleted.
Generally confused, some Twitter followers guessed that Musk was dubiously linking Unsworth (who has been mapping the Tham Luang caves for a decade) with Thailand's epidemic of child-sex tourism.
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"Bet ya a signed dollar it's true", Musk said in since-deleted tweets after being challenged on the claim. Shares of the electric-car maker fell as much as 3.6 per cent after the CEO called a British cave explorer who had criticized him a pedophile.
"I do not actually see the checks (changed that policy today)", Musk said in one.
Given the pressure, Musk may want to reconsider his approach to dealing with his critics, said Bryan Reber, who teaches public relations at the University of Georgia. "By definition, I mean rescuing 12 young boys, by definition that puts everybody else in the same context".
Unsworth, who lives part of the year in Thailand, took part in the gargantuan 18-day effort to retrieve the 12 boys and their coach, a mission that ended on July 10 when the last five members were extracted. "I'm not going to make any further comment about him, but I think people realize what sort of guy he is".
Loup Ventures published an open letter to Musk on behalf of investors, saying the comments to Unsworth "crossed the line" and calling for an apology. Unsworth said he would consider taking legal action against Musk over the remarks, in comments filmed in Chiang Rai on Monday by Australia's 9 News. "Yes, it's not finished".
The episode also seemed to repel some of Tesla's closest backers, including alternative-energy loyalists who saw in Tesla a worthy opponent to the juggernauts of the oil and gas industries.
Anderson and others noted how Tesla has been at the forefront of electric auto development and reducing carbon emissions - and Musk's controversial Twitter comments could jeopardize that.